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Parks district will ask voters to approve $1.6 million bond

LANGLEY — After months of debate, the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District has finally decided.

It will ask voters in February for $1.6 million to pay for much needed capital improvements to park facilities.

On the other hand, the controversial mini-bond to buy Island Greens Golf Course was tabled.

In the spring, the district will ask for a two-year levy renewal at the same rate, currently 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The park improvement bond will add less than 2 cents per $1,000 to that figure.

The mini-bond money will be used to expand the skatepark, improve dirt fields at the sports complex, add asphalt to the parking at newly-acquired Trustland Trails and Community Park, upgrade Castle Park, improve field drainage throughout the park and add a new playground and soccer pavilion.

Estimated cost for those improvements is about $1.2 million which provides for a 20 percent cushion should costs for the projects increase.

Parks Commissioner Matt Simms favored asking for a higher rate to guarantee voters would not be disappointed.

“We don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver on what we plan to accomplish,” Simms said. “More money will adequately cover the items that people have told us they want.”

But park commissioners Allison Tapert and Linda Kast disagreed.

“I think that 1.7 or 1.8 cents will be received better by the public,” Tapert said.

Finally the board voted 2-1 in favor of the $1.6 million but agreed to pare down the list of projects to allow for cost overruns. Simms voted nay and Parks Commissioner Paul Arand was absent.

Not making the cut were upgrades to the amphitheater, a new picnic shelter, office improvements that included an elevator, carpeting and roof and two new storage areas.

Voters last faced a parks proposal at the ballot box back in February 2004, when district voters approved a four-year maintenance-and-operation levy at a rate of 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The district had been at the same levy rate since 1998 while doubling the size of playfields.

Golf course purchase spurs concerns

Earlier this year, commissioners began considering the purchase of Island Greens, a privately-owned 32-acre course on French Road. Their plan was to go before voters in February with a mini-bond request for $1.6 million.

Island Greens owners Dave and Karen Anderson have had the property up for sale for a year; the last offer was for $1.25 million.

The Andersons opened the nine-hole course in 1989.

Simms argued strongly that the golf course purchase should be brought to voters in February.

“This is an essential element for recreation on South Whidbey, a primary and affordable form of entertainment for a lot of people. It fits with the park district’s mission,” he said.

Others weren’t so sure.

“This is taking us off course,” Tapert said, adding that it didn’t fit with the district’s plan for parks. “My preference is to not pursue it.”

Kast agreed.

“We’re not ready to convince anyone to vote for it because we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t even know the current price or the Anderson’s terms of sale,” Kast said.

Golf instructor Malcolm Ferrier said golfing teaches people of all ages wonderful values about life.

“We can’t let this resource disappear,” he said.

Parks director Terri Arnold said the golfing community should approach Island County commissioners to see if they would support the purchase of the course.

“Why is it necessary for us to be involved in it? We don’t have the staffing to oversee the project and there are issues like cash management and code requirements to deal with,” she said.

Park Commissioner Jim Porter supports the purchase, but said the timing is wrong.

“Sometimes opportunities just don’t work out,” he said. “We need to focus on the M&O levy and the improvements bond; both are vital to our mission.”

Porter said that if the school board and parks district go to voters for money, it could mean six ballot measures in February and voters could balk.

In the end the board tabled the issue to concentrate on the levy and bond vote.

Meanwhile, Simms and Ferrier will contact Island County and determine if there is support to buy the golf course.

Bigger bond coming down the road

In response to a resident questionnaire last year, the parks district is expected to ask voters to approve a much larger bond in November 2008 to pay for a sports complex and aquatics center. Total construction costs for the facility are estimated at $16.4 million.

If passed, the bond would increase property taxes an additional 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

South Enders generally agree with the course the district has taken over the years.

In April 2000, voters approved a bond of close to $1.3 million to buy 30 acres of new park land and to build new soccer fields, trails, parking and restroom facilities.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or www.southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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